The main objective of this paper is to discuss the approaches of early childhood education used in the 20th century. The paper compares and contrasts the two early childhood education approaches: nursery and Montessori early childhood education. The paper also explores how the two approaches include family and community, how they are best implemented and what are the strengths that enhance the implementation of the two approaches.
Nursery school, originated in England at the beginning of the 20th century, was established to serve low-income children and their families (Saracho, 2006). On the other hand, Montessori schools, originated in Italy, were designed to serve children from poor families. Gordon and Browne (2012) state that nursery school exemplifies a developmental approach to learning in which children actively explore materials, and in which activity or learning centers are organized to meet the developing skills and interests of the child.
Montessori schools were based on the principle that young children learn in a way that is fundamentally different from how adults learn. Montessori schools use curriculum that takes into account appropriate experiences available to children at times when they are most ready to learn (Essa, 2010). On the other hand, nursery schools are focused on social competence and emotional well-being of children. Essa (2010) argues that Montessori’s philosophy and approach, specifically the self-correcting materials and strong sense of respect for children, have had an enduring impact on early childhood education.
The principal concern of nursery schools is that they concentrate on social adjustment of the children to the community and family with the provision for emotional expression and support opportunities for play with relatively unstructured materials (Little & Brigham, 1993). On the other hand, Montessori approaches appear to be less concerned with social and emotional adaptation of the child than with the provision of disciplined opportunities in which the children may acquire sensory discriminations and cognitive skills. Little and Brigham say that materials used in Montessori approaches of early childhood education are designed for work rather than for play, and the program content is both specific and academic (1993).
Montessori programs of early childhood education are implemented through encouraging young children to learn social skills and academic knowledge to levels way beyond what was considered possible (Feez, 2009). The Montessori approach gives children the freedom to choose their own activity. Gordon and Browne (2012) say that the nursery school approach focuses on social competence and emotional well-being. The curriculum encourages self-expression through language, creativity, intellectual skill and physical activity.
The nursery school approaches work because they assume that young children need individual relationships with adults. Gordon and Browne (2012) state that in nursery school approach teachers encourage children to express themselves, their feelings and their thinking. Such relationship between teacher and pupil fosters self-confidence, security and belonging. These feelings promote positive self-image, healthy relationship and encourage learning environment. Feez (2009) says that Montessori approaches work because teachers are trained to observe children that freely choose the activities. They use these observations as a guide when they prepare the learning environment. Montessori approach uses carefully prepared learning environment which are equipped with beautifully designed materials.
The major strength that enhances implementation of nursery school approach is that it encourages teachers learn about children development and needs by observation and direct interaction rather than from formalized testing individually and in small groups (Gordon & Browne, 2012). The key strength of Montessori that enhances its implementation is that it gives children freedom and independence in the learning environment, combined with developing abilities in concentration; self-regulation and abstraction are used as the foundation for the development of educational knowledge (Feez, 2009).
In conclusion, both approaches lay the foundation for the development of the intellect and knowledge. The underlying differences between the nursery and Montessori approach are on the basis of skill development. While Montessori approach focuses on the use of materials that help children to develop the ability to concentrate, be independent and perform purposeful activity, nursery school approach encourages children to explore materials in which activity or learning centers are organized to meet the developing skill and interests of the children.